St Patrick's, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

St Patrick's, Atlanta, Georgia, USA


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper: OrgelMeister
Church: St Patrick's
Location: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 30 May 2009, 10:30am

The building

The building is late 1960s or early 1970s modern. Beautiful courtyard in the center of the building. One entrance between the chapel and main nave has a nice garden and water feature/koi pond with a celtic cross at one end. The main nave is more of a pseudo-trapezoid shape (loosely speaking) rather than a traditionally-styled nave that I'm accustomed to seeing. Choir seating is over to one side, rather than in the chancel or in a rear balcony. There is also a massive flying Jesus in the chancel (more on that later).

The church

I had always heard how nice, caring, giving, and loving the congregation of St Patrick's is. I decided to see for myself. St Patrick's is also not a traditional Episcopal parish. They could be described as what most people would deem charismatic.

The neighborhood

St Patrick's lists Atlanta as its mailing address but is actually located in Dunwoody, once an upscale old-money northern Atlanta enclave but now an independent city. During the late 80s and early 90s, Dunwoody was an up-and-coming neighborhood. It is still rather upscale, more family-friendly than singles-friendly, but is beginning to show its age a little.

The cast

The Rt Revd Keith B. Whitmore, Assistant Bishop of Atlanta, was celebrant and preacher this morning. He was assisted by the Revd Penny Nash, associate rector. Their former rector, the Revd Canon Gray Temple, Jr, retired recently and now serves as interim rector at a church in Munich, Germany, but no mention was made of him.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist with Confirmations and Baptisms

How full was the building?

The building was nearly bulging at the seams. I heard a couple of regular parishioners comment that they had never seen the building this full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Before I could even get out of my car, an elderly lady recognized me as a visitor and welcomed me. Two gentlemen outside the door welcomed me again. Once I had entered, someone else said hello and handed me a bulletin, and a lady whom I had never seen before gave me a big hug!

Was your pew comfortable?

Although the pew was padded on the seat and the back, I found the angle a bit odd, so on a scale of 1 to 10 I would probably give it a 4.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I arrived to a very noisy church: people talking, moving around, hugging each other, etc. Not a very prayerful setting. The guest organist was beginning the Franck Prelude and Variations and then switched to the Bach Little Prelude and Fugue in C Major.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning! Welcome to St Patrick's. Please stand for the opening hymn." We sang "Hail Thee Festival Day" and then the bishop began with "Alleluia, Christ is risen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Hymnal 1982, Book of Common Prayer, and Songbook (a three ring binder).

What musical instruments were played?

An older Allen organ, piano, and a couple of string instruments. The choir did not vest.

Did anything distract you?

There were several distractions. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the church was the massive amount of balloons all over the place to celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. Right before the confirmations began, one of the balloons burst, which garnered some squeals and then laughter. The bishop, being a jovial individual, commented on how the "Spirit moves in mysterious ways." But the thing that distracted me the most was the 20 foot "flying Jesus" holding a huge bouquet of balloons. (See picture).

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

There was nothing stiff-upper-lip about this service. People were standing up lifting their hands above their heads. There were a few shouts of "Amen" and "Hallelujah" several times during the service. During the Lord's Prayer, everyone in the room held hands, either across the aisles or in front or back of each other. The people of St Patrick's have a tremendously deep love for each other and they are not afraid to show it.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 – Bishop Whitmore is an excellent preacher. I've heard him preach before, and I've always found his sermons to be cohesive and heartfelt. He doesn't ramble around like some do. He also is one of the few who can actually keep my attention during the whole sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Pentecost is the third most important feast day in the Church, after Easter and Christmas. The apostles had been huddled in that upper room for 50 days. Receiving the Holy Spirit enabled them finally to leave the room, go out into the world, and proclaim the gospel.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Seeing the unconditional love that the members of this congregation have for each other.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The music, I'm afraid. The organist, string players, pianist and choir had trouble staying in tempo with each other. I counted no less than seven tempos in a four-stanza hymn. Entrances and cutoffs between verses were very ragged. Additionally, the announcements went on for 15 minutes, during which guests were welcomed, birthdays were announced, and anniversaries were commemorated – each to much applause from the congregation!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

There was no time to look lost! Some people immediately came up to greet me and sweep me down the hall to the church's annual Pentecost picnic and barbeque.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

A huge spread of food. I felt guilty not having brought anything to contribute. Nor was there an offering plate where people could donate something to help with the food.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

3 – While I felt a serious and genuine love among these parishioners, I do not think I could make this my church home on a regular basis because of the music and praise choruses.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, because of the love these people share with each other.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Two things really: Bishop Whitmore's sermon and that flying Jesus.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools